The Dime Notes are a new jazz ensemble that formed in 2016. Their approach to jazz is to return to the genre’s roots. On their self-titled debut, the ensemble pays homage to Johnny Dodds, Jelly Roll Morton and Red Nichols and others.
About 1920s jazz and blues
In the early days of jazz, there appeared to be a great deal of crossover between jazz and blues. Then, when the word “blues” became accepted as a complaint, almost any genre could have a song with the word “blues” in it. Think “Smuggler’s Blues” by Glenn Frey of Eagles’ fame. The song had nothing to do with blues musically, but it did detail a smuggler’s concerns.
Obviously, there are musical guidelines that separate jazz from blues. It is just that once upon a time, the line was fluid. Today, the line seems more fixed, especially as jazz becomes more experimental and actual blues performers seem more obscure to non-aficionados.
It is at that fluid line that listeners find The Dime Notes. The clarinet-led New Orleans blues are played with rhythmic flourish, just as the ragtime or stride piano blues are played with an emotive force that will make listeners question the year.
I am not sure what motivation the band members might have for bringing back the sound from almost 100 years ago, but their authenticity is refreshing in an era known more for experimental jazz. There is nothing wrong with fusion or other types of contemporary jazz. But to hear the roots of the genre is fun and a bit awe-inspiring.
About The Dime Notes
The band is a mix of British and American musicians. The Dime Notes are led by famed British clarinetist, David Horniblow (oh, the irony) and American pianist, Andrew Oliver. The ensemble is rounded out by rhythm guitarist Dave Kelbie, and British bassist, Tom Wheatley.
Before The Dime Notes, the individual members of the group had laudable careers on their own, or playing with other musicians. However, their respect for old-time jazz has brought them together. The members of the group mesh so well, it is difficult to believe they just formed in 2016. Their self-titled debut is available on vinyl and CD.
The sound of The Dime Notes
It is nearly impossible to listen to The Dime Notes without an appreciation for what Jelly Roll Morton was doing as early as 1915. This is music meant for dancing. The sound of the sprightly clarinet, the slapped bass, and the moody piano create images of partner dancing, Harold Lloyd movies and an arguably simpler time.
The standout songs on this album are “The Pearls,” “Aunt Hagar’s Children’s Blues” and “The Crave.” The songs sound like the decade they have come to represent. The instrumentation is sinewy, yet light. The clarinet paints pictures of dancers vining between each other, and if the piano and bass were in different genres of music, they would be menacing. The guitar seems to play along with the piano, except for when the piano solos.
The Dime Notes have done more than create novelty. They have provided a musical history lesson, one that is valuable for fans of both jazz and blues.